Reports from AMC PIX conference in Australia

Field to fork: NIR technology has ‘real future’ in feed

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NIR technology has a strong future in complex feed chain analysis, far beyond simple quality control checks, claim industry experts.

A well-established technology, NIR (near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy) has been widely used as a reliable quality control tool in feed for a considerable length of time.

But some NIR specialists believe the technology has far more potential for feed manufacturers.

Connecting the feed supply chain

Chris Piotrowski, director of NIR equipment firm Aunir, said: “I think it has a real future for being able to work right through the supply chain, from the plant breeders all the way through to the final food production.”

Speaking to at the recent AMC and PIX industry event on the Gold Coast in Australia, he said NIR had potential to analyze areas of the supply chain in great depth.

“We could get fingerprints from the plant breeders so we know what type of grain is being put into the feed; we get the energy measurements from that feed so we know what’s going into the animal; we can measure the performance of the animal; and finally we can measure the carcass quality before it goes onto the end

Expert analysis

Piotrowski said it was thanks to advances in IT and analysis that NIR had more potential.

It could now, for example, measure things like the in-vivo energy of feed, he said, or ‘anti-nutrients’ that negatively impacted the overall feed profile, like soy that had not been heated sufficiently.

Craig Hunt, national sales manager Unity Scientific Asia-Pacific, said there was also a demand for specific mineral analysis.

“…Traditionally, most people are using NIR for fat, protein and moisture in their feeds but calcium is becoming more important to them. Obviously with a non-laying bird they want lower calcium values as opposed to an egg-producing bird which needs that higher calcium for the health of the bird and also the transfer of the calcium for the shells and reliability.”

He said calcium analysis could be done quickly with NIR, allowing mill managers to adjust formulations accordingly.

“…It’s a double win - the egg producer has less breakages which is important to them from a commercial point of view, and just for the overall health of the bird.”

Away from the lab…

Developers were now looking to shift away from laboratory analysis towards more portable options for feed manufacturers. 

Magnus Lindgren, process instrumentation manager at Perten Instruments AB, said on-line and portable NIR technology had not long been available for feed makers but that was set to change.

“I’m sure we’ll see instruments become more readily available in terms of price, so more customers can put them into more locations and can benefit by measuring in more places,” he said.

As these developments were rolled out, he said feed makers would make more and more cost savings.

“Most discussions on NIR in a feed mill revolves around savings – making the same amount of feed at a lower cost and optimizing production. So, for example, you can optimize the drying stage if you can measure the moisture continuously on-line. You can make sure the drying is the optimum drying – so you’re saving on energy and still making sure you have the right amount of moisture in your product.”

Piotrowski said that while the upfront cost of the equipment was high, payback was “very good”.

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